Category Archives: Friends and Family

Leadville Marathon 2015

(Photo credits here: Mike Short, Scott Humphries, me, and Athlinks!)

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The path up to Mosquito Pass goes above 13,000 feet in elevation, and gives a sweeping view back to the west.

 

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Scott (left) and me, minutes after the finish

The outstanding feature of this year’s Leadville marathon was the snow.  In Central Colorado the week before the event, I was snowed on once and hailed on a number of times.  The marathon itself had to be re-routed from its traditional course because one section had 8 feet of snow on the trail — in late June!!  Part of the “problem,” of course, is that Leadville is at 10,200 feet in elevation, and the marathon takes you above 13,000 feet (as the picture above hints).  And it was a big year for snow in the area.  Marathon organizers dug out a path up the Mosquito Pass (the signature summit of the event) that sometimes consisted of a narrow (muddy, rocky) passage with 4-5 feet of snow on each side.  Another long stretch of “trail” was more like running a riverbed, given the amount of water coming downhill at the runners’ feet.

This was my second Leadville marathon — a 26-mile, 6-hour effort with 6,000 feet of climbs on rugged paths in ridiculously thin air.   Even so (and believe it or not), it’s about the shortest, quickest, easiest event they do in Leadville (as prior years’ posts here, here, here, and here reflect).  My prior Leadville marathon in 2012 had a MUCH more interesting and amusing finish, but at least my time this year (5:53) was one minute faster– despite the water and snow in the trail.  Even better, my inveterate biking and triathlon buddy Scott Humphries got his first taste of Colorado trail running.  I needed him to get his feet wet (literally and figuratively) so I could lobby him to join me on even-crazier Leadville quests that may be all but inevitable in years to come.

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IMG_1829As in past events, I had the benefit of a handful of Superfans who rushed from point to point with a backpack full of Gatorade and snacks for Scott and I.   Their heroics required quite a bit of athleticism and Leadville knowledge — just to be active spectators!  Big thanks to Shane Merz and to Mike and Christopher Short!

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Double Ironman trip: South Africa and Taiwan (via Hong Kong and Macau): But there’s still so much to be done

My Ironman trip around the world — with Scott Humphries and Shane Merz.  Imagine getting the chance to spend almost three weeks circling the globe with a couple of your best friends — yukking it up, exploring two continents, and — oh yes — doing two Ironman triathlons without coming home in between.

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Hong Kong at Night, from Kowloon looking south.  A stopover after Ironman South Africa and before Ironman Taiwan.

 

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Shark Rock Pier, Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

 

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Scott Humphries, me, and Shane Merz in Hong Kong.

 

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Kenting, Taiwan. The last few steps of the six-continents Ironman plan.

IRONMAN PANGEA: SIX CONTINENTS. Some years ago, after finishing our first Ironman (in Brazil), my friends (Scott Humphries, Shane Merz) and I got the bright idea to complete an Ironman triathlon on every continent. The quest required a couple of trips to Europe, retreated briefly to Ironman Texas, and made a trek to Scott’s native Australia. There isn’t actually such an event in Antarctica, so we were down to two remaining continents — Africa and Asia.   Someone (me, I fear) got the further bright idea that we should finish off those two continents with two back-to-back races, in a single two-week period without coming home in between: Ironman South Africa (in Port Elizabeth), then the inaugural Ironman Taiwan (in Kenting, the tropical southern tip of Taiwan).

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Scott celebrating his Taiwan finish

 

COLUMBUS WAS RIGHT – OR WAS IT GALILEO? OR…PYTHAGORAS?:  I knew this already, but for the first time I was able to verify for myself that the Earth is round. We left Houston headed eastbound toward South Africa, then eventually got home via Hong Kong, and Taipei from the west.   There were nine flight legs in all, plus a bus, a couple of ferries, a handful of trains, five hotels, and more taxis and shuttle vans than I could count. The logistical absurdity of the adventure required schlepping 100 pounds each of triathlon gear (bicycles, cases, wetsuits, etc.) literally around the world.

 

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Shane on the bike in Taiwan

IRON AGE MATH: L = M50-54. Competitions like this are done in age and gender groupings – usually five-year gaps like M (Men) 30-34 (years old), M35-39, and so on. So sixty-year-old females (F60-64) compete against one another – not really against 25-year-old (M25-29) men — although we’re all on the same course at the same time.   For this purpose, you are considered to be whatever age you BECOME during the calendar year. So even if you don’t turn 30 until November, you’re treated as being 30 all year long.

August 2015 will bring a very round-numbered birthday for me, so I was in the “M50-54” age group. Gulp. Seeing “The Big 5-0” associated with my name for the first time was a little startling, but seeing it in this context took some of the sting off.  In fact I’d be more proud of those race finishes if I were, for example, M70-74. (I sometimes claim to be 82 years old because – modesty aside – I look pretty good for an 82-year-old.) Besides, the 50-year old group is often just as fast as even much younger men; the patience and wisdom to pace one’s self is a strong virtue in such events.

I think I’m going to use the more elegant Roman numeral, “L” to denote my age (Come August, that is. I’m still XLIX for another couple of months, thankyouverymuch).

 

20150326_153228_resizedWHO CAN GO THE DISTANCE? WE’LL FIND OUT, IN THE LONG RUN: The races themselves? An Ironman event is a 2.4 mile offshore ocean swim, a 112 mile bike race, then a 26.2 mile (marathon distance) run – all in one day with just 5 minutes or so in between to change your shoes. It usually takes us around 13 hours – starting at sunrise and usually finishing in the dark. The hilly South African bike course was especially brutal (imagine mixing 5,000 feet of vertical climb and nasty winds into those mileages), but at least the area’s much-discussed great white sharks resisted the allure of the nearly 2,000 black-wetsuit-clad swimmers out in Nelson Mandela Bay. (Before the start, the race announcer told us we might be “lucky” enough to see dolphins swimming near us in the bay, so we should look for their dorsal fins. I had a mild suspicion that this was an ingenious fib to prevent widespread panic should anyone spot a shark out there making an otherwise-harmless appearance.)

Taiwan was hot but less windy, and the water was crystal clear for our South China Sea swim. Most important, we all finished both events in good health and even better spirits. The Continental Ironman Quest is complete!

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Shane and Scott at the Big Buddha just outside Hong Kong.

 

GOOD FRIENDS, GOOD HEALTH,  AND GOOD FORTUNE: There’s no way any of this intercontinental athletic foolishness would ever be happening (for me) without my two very close friends Scott Humphries and Shane Merz. (You’ve surely heard these names before, e.g., here and here and here . . . ). It does not escape my notice that Scott and Shane have jobs, wives, and kids. How they pull this off, I do not know.  We did a lot of philosophizing during the trek — maybe we were influenced by the those big meditating Buddhas?  One overarching observation:  we were extraordinarily fortunate to have good health and good friends, together with the ability, the means and the freedom to roam and see the world in a way only a tiny fraction of earth’s inhabitants have done through all of its history.

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Evening in Hong Kong

 

JIMMY BUFFETT GETS INVOLVED:  Our Ironman-related travels had already taken us to some amazing places:  Zurich, Rio, Sydney, Germany, the Caribbean, Hawaii and more. This time, we had a week to mostly “kill” between the two races – mixing some sightseeing in among short workouts to stay in shape. We spent four days in Hong Kong and two in Macau, China (a former Portuguese colony with Las Vegas-sized casinos where we watched a guy playing US$100,000 hands of Baccarat).

We rode from Hong Kong island to Macau (on the Chinese mainland) via the high-speed express ferry; we chuckled that it was a “fast boat to China.”  That phrase is a line from Jimmy Buffett song, “Last Mango in Paris.”   In the song, a man reminisces to Buffett about his life of international adventures, then finishes, “But Jimmy, there’s still so much to be done.” I adopted the phrase as a motto of the trip.

This is the year I turn L years old. The six-continents Ironman quest is complete — but there’s still so much to be done.

 

 

Child Advocates’ Superheroes Run 2014

Last weekend was the second annual Child Advocates Superheroes Run — “powered” again this year by my buddies at MRE Consulting.  The money raised helps some of the 5,000 or so children in the city of Houston who are in the custody of the state as a result of suspected abuse or neglect.*

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This year’s Superheroes Run was just a little bit better than last year’s.  We had more runners, things went even smoother,  the weather was nicer, people seemed to have even more fun, and most importantly, we raised even more money.  Last year’s Run — our first ever — was a huge success; this year’s was even bigger.  We’re still doing the math, but it looks like we netted over $80k for Child Advocates.

I got to “chair” the Run again this year.  As I said in my post about the 2013 run, this means that all my friends wind up doing lots of work and donate lots of money.  I might feel a little guilty about the arm twisting, except that they’re helping one of the most worthy charities you can imagine.  As I explained last year, abused kids need help and there isn’t a lot of financial support for helping them.  Unlike charities for diseases, culture, churches or colleges, relatively few would-be philanthropists feel a personal connection to child neglect or consider themselves or their families to be at risk, so the big donations can be much harder to come by.

Another reason I support Child Advocates:  It’s what I think of as a “teach ’em to fish” charity.   Recall the saying:  “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach the man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  Child Advocates’ impact on those kids alters their whole life.  It doesn’t just provide food or comfort for the moment or the day and leave the beneficiary in need for continuing, further aid.  It has a big impact at a critical time and improves kids’ lives forever.  It’s money well spent.

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Huge thanks to all the sponsors, and a special personal thanks to the presenting sponsor, MRE Consulting, and to my three friends who run the place:  Mike Short (shown in a superman T-shirt with his son, Christopher), Shane Merz (shown in an MRE T-shirt with his WonderWomanWife, Michele), and Dru Niekirk (no good picture this year, but I got him heroically finishing in 2013).  Also a personal thanks to my former law firm, Gibbs & Bruns (and its partners), to my friends and former law partners at Reynolds, Frizzell, Doyle, Allen and Oldham, to Ned Barnett, to Scott & Stacy Humphries, and to Kim David Dr. Paul Klottman at Baylor College of Medicine.

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Child Advocates recruits, trains and supports a small army of about 750 volunteer Advocates, each one generally assigned to one or two kids in CPS custody.  The Advocates’ primary role is to roll up their sleeves, talk to and work with the kids, parents, relatives, neighbors, and counselors, and to help CPS and the Courts to figure out how to resolve each child’s unique situation and get them — somehow — safely out of CPS custody.  The mission is to break the “cycle” of child abuse — whereby abused kids too often grow up to be abusive parents.  Child Advocates is almost thirty years old, so there are now many thousands of heartwarming stories of how Advocates have changed (and even saved) lives.

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Here are some full-time Superheroes — Sonya Galvan (in the sombrero) and several of the staff of Child Advocates. That’s my niece, Caitlin under that Batman mask.

*To protect the privacy of the abused or neglected kids in CPS custody, we (Child Advocates) do not use or reveal images of them in any public promotions or advertisements for Child Advocates.  The kids you see in photos on this page are not kids being served by Child Advocates.  They’re just some of the hundreds who registered for the run and showed up with their families to take part in the event and support Child Advocates.

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Trail Run

I wasn’t really surprised to learn that running 50 miles in a day is hard.  Especially if it’s on rocky, high-mountain trails.  

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My Mom and Dad came up from Oklahoma to watch and cheer — and to hold me up for a minute after the finish!   (Thanks to Mike Short for most of these pictures!)

A dirty little secret about the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Trail Run is that it isn’t really 50 miles – it’s more like 47.  Maybe they’re counting the fact that there was a vertical mile and a half of climb (7,400 ft) and the same amount of descent.  Most of the race was on  “jeep” or fire-service roads, and most of it was between 11,000 and 12,000 feet in elevation – up where the air gets really thin and trees can’t survive on the mountainsides.  That amount of climb is the rough equivalent of climbing up and down a 12-storey building during each mile – or of scaling the Empire State Building six times during the race.

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The race starts at the bottom of the local ski slope and heads right straight up.

The absolute highlight of the race was my support “crew.”  At least 20 times over the fifty-mile course I was greeted by a group of my friends and family – sometimes as many as nine of them, all of whom had somehow found their way to Leadville that weekend and spent their day cheering and helping me.  Mike Short was my personal photographer (taking most of the pictures on this page).  My top supporters for the last 48 years (my Mom and Dad) chased me on their ATV.  Bjorn Hegelman (there with wife Jodie) was my biggest (literally) supporter (see photo below if you don’t get this joke).  Dr. Don Wilsey (a friend I met during my Bolivia experience) drove over from Colorado Springs.

Shane and Michele Merz and Scott Humphries were my roving pit crew — chasing me on ATVs with Gatorade and food and going above and beyond my imaginings even for SuperFans.  When I caught sight of them up the trail (or heard their cowbells through the woods), I could yell, “I need sunscreen, baby wipes, and crackers!”  No problem.  “Chapstick, and bug spray!?”  Here you go.  “Diet coke and cookies?”  Coming right up.  They were so great it was absurd.  I might – MIGHT – have been able to finish without all that support, but it surely wouldn’t have been as happy, fast, or fun.

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My support crew at 5:30a.m.! (Not shown: Mike Short, who took most of these pictures).

Spending a summer in Leadville demonstrates a persistent fact of life:  no matter what you do — there’s always somebody doing twice as well,  going twice as far, twice as fast, twice as tough or as often . . . something.  Several hundred great mountain bikers do the fifty-mile race, only to have hundreds of runners cover exactly the same course the next day without the benefit of a bicycle.  Celebrate your fifty-mile run and you’ll still be consigned to a backseat behind the folks who’ll run a HUNDRED miles here over even-tougher terrain in August.  Seriously.  Running “just” the 50 mile race gets only modest respect in Leadville.

Before last weekend, I’d never run more than 26.2 miles in a day, so committing to run 50 – especially in Leadville — was a big leap.  I was emboldened by the fact that I’ve done several events in the past that took 11 to 13 hours each (Ironman triathlons and 100-mile mountain bike races).  I’d done an Ironman triathlon just a month before, so I thought I could get away with minimal extra training.  My theories mostly panned out fine, with the possible exception that I didn’t fully realize how hard a rocky Rocky Mountain mountain trail can be on your feet and ankles.

 I’m never going to be among the fastest at an event like this.  I finished in 11 hours and 30 minutes — far behind the winners, in about the middle third of runners.  In fact, given my slow-but-steady pace, I hesitate to call it a “run.”  Still, often there’s a good chance I’m among those having the most fun.  On crazy, long events like this, my reflex when I see friends or family is usually to raise my hands over my head in a celebratory pose, to whoop and smile and run just a little bit faster.  I’m smiling in almost every picture.  In the setting of a fifty-mile run, I can’t pretend it was easy, but I really did have as much fun as it looks like I did.

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Already above the tree line, with a long ways to go, this was one of four separate climbs up to 12,000 ft. (This is one of just a couple of pictures I took myself with a tiny camera I carried on part of the trip.)

SCUBA Dive the Great Barrier Reef: Check!

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Scott Humphries Down Under

Even though I spent almost two weeks on the banks of the Coral Sea in Cairns, Australia — the primary port for access to the Great Barrier Reef —  crappy weather and busy schedules (for other priorities) meant I did just one day of SCUBA diving.  I’d spent much more time than that getting READY (and learning how) to SCUBA dive in preparation of the trip.  At least I got to dive with a couple of good buddies (Shane Merz and Scott Humphries).  SCUBA diving the Great Barrier Reef seems to be on almost everyone’s “bucket list,” so I couldn’t leave Cairns without doing it.

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Sub-sea Shane Merz

I actually don’t like or use the term “bucket list,” as the rather morbid perspective is about kicking the bucket and racing the clock before you croak.  I’ve got more lists than you can imagine of things I’m hoping to see and do in my life, but the focus isn’t on my impending demise.  They’re just a lifetime “to-do” list.

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As they’re quick to tell you down here, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (I’ve only seen three!).  It’s a World Heritage Site (I’ve seen maybe 30 of the 1,ooo or so sites!), and allegedly it’s visible from space.  As for checking it off a bucket list, it’s hard to know when you can really do that:  It’s 1500 miles long (and is actually a network of hundreds of smaller reefs), so I figure I’ve seen about .0001% of it.  I think that counts; I’m checking it off the list.

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As I described recently in my post about SCUBA School in Belize, I have an underwater housing for my tiny Canon S100 pocket camera.  It’s not a big, professional underwater setup, but it works okay in shallow water with decent light.  The cloudy skies here made it marginal.  I noticed there were several shops in Cairns where you could easily rent an underwater digital camera as good or better than what I brought, so if you SCUBA, there’s no excuse for not bringing a camera.